Saturday 17 August 2019

End 'hateful squabbles' in Europe, says President Michael D Higgins as he continues state trip to Germany

President Michael D Higgins' keynote address at Leipzig University
President Michael D Higgins' keynote address at Leipzig University
President Michael D Higgins' keynote address at Leipzig University
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Days after British MEPs turned their back on the European Parliament during the EU anthem, Ode to Joy, President Michael D Higgins is in Leipzig, where it was written, calling for a new conversation on how Europe is to change.

He called for “hateful squabbles” to be replaced with openness, inclusiveness and solidarity.

On the second day of his State visit to Germany, the President gave a keynote address at Leipzig University.

He described Ode to Joy as “a call for rescue from tyrants, mercy to villains, and hope to the dying hours”.

The red carpet was rolled out as the President boarded the train at the main station in Berlin for his journey - the first official visit by an Irish President to Saxony - together with his wife Sabina and Tánaiste Simon Coveney.

READ MORE: 'Our nearest neighbour continues to throw a tantrum' - President Higgins talks Brexit during state trip to Germany

On arriving at the University in Leipzig, he was greeted by the Premier of the Free State of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer, and Lord Mayor Burkhard Jung.

He and Sabina signed the distinguished visitors’ book before being escorted to the beautiful Paulinium assembly hall, built on the grounds of a church destroyed by the Eastern Germany authorities after WWII.

We are neither at the end of history or of ideas. President Michael D Higgins

In his speech at the university, he spoke of the need for change at a level which occurred in the late 1980s and early 1900s in central and Eastern Europe.

However the necessary change, he said, was “being resisted by a combination of those frightened, rendered mute or stricken with intellectual lethargy by wielders of corporate power, opponents of State regulation and a minority of citizens happy to have gained access to an ever-more insatiable accumulation process”.

We might be tempted to look back with nostalgia at the days of the early pioneers of the European Union like Robert Schumann and Jean Monnet, he said - but warned that nostalgia was “often our response when we feel inadequate in the face of new challenges.”

He said the onus is on each generation “to invent or bring into being” the necessary tools for its time.

“We are neither at the end of history or of ideas,” the President said.

And he said he had come to Leipzig to present his ideas because he believes the task of renewing Europe and future-proofing the Union cannot take place in the capitals of member states but in a European conversation “widely diverse and inclusive”.

He also spoke of migration as a key aspect of European history for centuries. It has shaped who we are as Europeans, he added.

And he spoke of our need to protect “our fragile ecology”, with hope of a green Europe in the aftermath of coal and steel.

But we must go further in Europe and plan for the full decarbonisation of our economies by 2050, he said.

He urged the USA to reconsider its decision to leave the international Paris Agreement on climate change, calling the move “inexcusable, ill-informed, profoundly myopic and which threatens future generations with catastrophic climate consequences”.

The Brexit vote, the election of US President Donald Trump and street violence were a reaction to rising inequality, stagnant incomes and economic security, he warned, saying trust must be rebuilt in fractured societies.

You can read the President's speech here.

His day in Leipzig will continue with a tour of the Church of St Nicholas where protesters gathered as a safe space during the 1989 demonstrations that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

He will also visit the City Hall for lunch with the the Premier and Lord Mayor.

In the afternoon he will return to Berlin by train for a concert, Other Voices, with artists Lisa Hannigan and Dermot Kennedy among the Irish and German artists performing to celebrate the longstanding cultural and musical ties between the two nations.

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